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Improving Health Equity for Older Adults, One Handyman at a Time

November 07, 2021
by Matt Kristoffersen

For aging adults across the United States, independent living comes with challenges.

Traditional stoves require standing for long periods of time to cook healthy foods and check on pots and pans. Cleaning piles of clutter from hallways can be tough — if not impossible — without encountering severe back pain. And the stairs that may have once been mindlessly summited can turn into arduous climbs in old age.

At the Yale School of Public Health Dean’s Lecture & Program on Aging Seminar on November 3, Sarah Szanton, Ph.D., dean of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, told the virtual and in-person audience members that she has a promising solution.

Her intervention program, called CAPABLE, is a patient-centered initiative meant to help adults age safely in place. With the help of a nurse, an occupational therapist and a handyman, clients modify their homes to make living easier, like installing a mirror over the stovetop or adding sturdy bannisters to stairs. And in the process, she said, older adults report better health outcomes along with lower medical costs.

“People often say to us at the end, ‘Oh, now I’m going to try to do this,’” she said. “It’s almost like the actual changes are just an engine for building self-efficacy. And, importantly, the changes to the home are reminders of what they wanted to do.”

People often say to us at the end, ‘Oh, now I’m going to try to do this.

Sarah Szanton

Her interdisciplinary approach to aging in place has won recognition across the country: It has been scaled to 45 new sites in 23 states, with more soon — including Connecticut.

CAPABLE is unique because the program includes only a limited number of home sessions and is geared toward independence, she said. And since CAPABLE is also a certified fall-prevention program, patients can push the envelope while staying safe.

Szanton, Ph.D., ANP, FAAN, spoke to her in-person audience from Winslow Auditorium — the first such Dean’s Lecture since the start of the pandemic. In his remarks, YSPH Dean Sten Vermund celebrated the event, which was co-sponsored by the Yale School of Medicine’s Program on Aging and the Yale School of Nursing.

“It’s nice to see the faces of people I haven’t seen in a year and a half,” he said. “Aging is a classic topic in which you’re not going to draw boundaries between medicine, nursing and public health. Those are going to be overlapping Venn diagrams in a big way.”

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on November 08, 2021